Experimental research is commonly used in scientific fields such as psychology, chemistry, biology, and medicine. The term refers to a range of research designs that employ manipulation and controlled testing to discover and describe causal processes. Typically, the end goal of experimental research is to identify what effect one or more variables have on a dependent variable. Experimental research is the only option when there is a need to determine time priority and consistency in a causal relationship as well as the magnitude of a correlation (King, 2017).
Strictly speaking, this research method makes use of a true experiment where a researcher manipulates one variable while the others are controlled or randomized. In the best case scenario, a researcher gathers conclusive data that explains some sort of causation. In this paper, an article by Arroyo and Brunner (2016) will be used to illustrate the elements of experimental research.
Hypothesis and Dependent and Independent Variables
In research, a hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a studied phenomenon or a solution to a problem. Putting forward a hypothesis implies that there is no predetermined outcome, and further investigation can confirm the initial idea as well as reject it (King, 2017). Usually, researchers base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot be otherwise explained by the current, unanimously recognized scientific theory (King, 2017).
One of the hypotheses that Arroyo and Brunner (2016) aimed at exploring in their article was whether frequent exposure to friends’ fitness posts could cause negative body talk. This hypothesis contains two types of variables – dependent (the one that is controlled and manipulated) and independent (the one that is tested and measured) (King, 2017). In the article by Arroyo and Brunner (2016), the independent variable is exposure to fitness posts while the dependent variable is negative body talk.
When it comes to data collection, an operational definition can be explained as a clear, comprehensive definition of a measure. In sociological and psychological research, the need for putting forward operational definitions is fundamental (King, 2017). In these fields, researchers often deal with concepts and phenomena that are somewhat abstract and, therefore, are not easily quantified.
In the article by Arroyo and Brunner (2016), the independent variable, exposure to friends’ fitness posts, is operationalized as the frequency of looking at posts and status updates about healthy lifestyle on social media. The posts included pictures of healthy food, pictures during a workout, posts about working out, fitness inspiration quotes, and workout statistics. The dependent variable is operationalized as the frequency with which participants made self-comments that revolved around body image and that were upsetting or demeaning (Arroyo & Brunner, 2016).
Experimental and Control Groups
One of the prerequisites of robust experimental research is the presence of experimental and control groups. Experimental groups are those that are exposed to a controlled condition such as friends’ posts about fitness on social media.
Control groups, on the other hand, are not subject to a manipulated condition – for example, their participants are not exposed to fitness content. Both groups are needed for the contrast: the control group establishes the baseline to which the experimental group is compared. Random assignment is a recommended practice that allows for the distribution of human or animal subjects between control and experimental groups. Randomization means that each subject has an equal chance of being assigned to any of the two groups (King, 2017). Moreover, random assignment removes bias as it ensures that any differences between the two groups are not systematic.
Ethical Considerations in Research
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct applies to psychology practice and research. There is a dire need for such a document to make sure that human rights are not violated in the process. In the past, a person’s dignity could be easily dismissed for the sake of making a scientific discovery. For instance, in the 20th century, Japanese doctors and scientists ran a series of human experiments in which participants were exposed to viruses, frost, and open fire (Frazer & Kornhauser, 2014). To prevent inhumane research, the Ethics Code outlines four main principles to be considered:
- Beneficence and nonmaleficence. Psychologists must strive to benefit those whom they research and ensure that no harm is done.
- Fidelity and responsibility. Psychologists must build relationships upon trust and personal accountability (King, 2017).
- Integrity. Psychologists must promote honesty and truthfulness in science, teaching, and practice.
- Respect for people’s rights and dignity. Psychologists must acknowledge every human’s right to autonomy and self-determination (American Psychological Association, 2017).
Publication in a Peer-Reviewed Journal
The final stage of research is publication, for which its authors need to choose reliable media. One of them is a peer-reviewed journal – a journal that contains articles that underwent evaluation by one or more experts of similar competence to the authors of the work (King, 2017). Peer review allows for self-regulation in the scientific community and makes sure that only valid research finds its target audience. Peer review methods are used to uphold standards of quality, enhance performance, and provide credibility. The article by Arroyo and Brunner (2016) is peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.
American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Web.
Arroyo, A., & Brunner, S. R. (2016). Negative body talk as an outcome of friends’ fitness posts on social networking sites: Body surveillance and social comparison as potential moderators. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 44(3), 216-235.
Frazer, M. J., & Kornhauser, A. (Eds.). (2014). Ethics and social responsibility in science education: Science and technology education and future human needs (Vol. 2). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.
King, L. (2017). Experience psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.